Study Shows that Treating Depression in Teens Wards off Future Substance Abuse

A study recently released in the  Journal of Consulting and Clinicial Psychology found a correlation between the treatment of severe depression in teens and the likelihood of future substance abuse.

Nearly 200 youths at 11 sites across the United States were studied for five years. The participants analyzed by the study were ages 17-23 at the end of the five-year follow-up study and had no preexisting problems with abusing alcohol or drugs.

The participants came from another study on the “Treatment for Adolescents with Depression Study” (TADS; 2000-2003), led by Dr. John March, chief of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry at Duke University Medical Center. To be considered for both studies the adolescents must have had at least five symptoms for a length of time to be diagnosed with major depression prior to treatment: depressed mood; loss of interest; disruptions in appetite, sleep or energy; poor concentration; worthlessness; and suicidal thoughts or behavior.

According to the researchers only 10 percent of  the 192 adolescents whose depression receded after 12 weeks of treatment later abused drugs, compared to 25 percent of those for whom treatment did not work, according to research led by John Curry, a professor of psychology and neuroscience at Duke University. Curry said that improved mood regulation due to medicine or skills learned in cognitive-behavior therapy, along with support and education that came with all of the treatments, may have played key roles in keeping the youths off drugs. “It turned out that whatever they responded to-cognitive behavioral therapy, Prozac, both treatments, or a placebo-if they did respond within 12 weeks they were less likely to develop a drug-use disorder,” Curry said. To read more about the study and it findings you can go here.

In ACSAdolescent Substance Abuse Treatment (ASAT) Program we see many teens and youth come to us with symptoms of depression, combined with substance(s) use, abuse and/or dependance. ACS Director of Outpatient  Counseling Services Connie Mayer, LMFT, says,

I talk with teens everyday about how they began to use and often times abuse drugs and alcohol. At first, the teen reports using drugs or alcohol for recreational purposes only but as we begin to explore the issues that have have risen in their lives such as dropping grades, family conflicts, legal problems, withdrawal of extra curriculum activities, we see a correlation between the teen’s desire to self medicate feelings of depression and/or anxiety. What once was a recreational fix has become the teens repeated attempt to alleviate stress, anxiety and/or depression. At ACS we treat the original problem of depression and/or anxiety that occurs during adolescence as well as their substance use and help the family as well understand this relationship.”


Both ACS programs: After-School Counseling Program and the Adolescent Substance Abuse Treatment Program are available to adolescents and families in the Santa Clara and San Mateo counties. If you are interested in making an appointment or just looking for some more information about depression or substance abuse please contact Connie Mayer, LMFT, Director of Outpatient Counseling Services at 650.424.0852 ext 104. Or you can email for more information.

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